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Scott Howard-Cooper

Royce White led Iowa State in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
Courtesy Iowa State Athletics Communications

Fear of flying could ground player's chances for first round

Posted Apr 10 2012 10:27AM

The exact breakdown is that Royce White flew roundtrip with the rest of the Iowa State team to the South Padre Island Invitational in Texas on big commercial planes, and to Michigan, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on 30-seat jets. He drove with his grandfather to Missouri, Kansas State and the NCAA tournament in Louisville, Ky., rather than fly. He took a bus as part of the Cyclones' contingent to all other road games.

The details matter. They matter because White is in a unique NBA Draft predicament concerning his ability, or lack thereof, to handle a professional's travelling schedule. The details matter so much that White, a first-round talent, may drop into the second round because of an anxiety disorder that churns into a fear of flying.

White's disorder already has altered his life once. He planned to transfer from Minnesota, his hometown school, to Kentucky, but had a panic attack at the thought of being on the plane to Lexington and called off the decision. He chose Iowa State, a 200-mile drive from the Twin Cities, instead.

Now his fears could cost him millions in a rookie deal.

"There's guys that have been in the draft before where there have been concerns they didn't like to fly, but Royce is very unique," one general manager said. "It's going to be something that a team taking him on is going to have to have something in place, whether it's a staff member or a plan in place to help him accommodate some of his fears with the travel aspect because that's such a huge part of an NBA season. It's going to have to take a team getting creative and putting some resources in place to help him get past some of the issues with the travel."

White, on the court, is one of the more sound players who will be available in the June 28 Draft. He brings a physical attack at small forward along with speed and ball handling at 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds. He led 23-11 Iowa State in points (13.4), rebounds (9.3), assists (5.0), steals (1.2) and blocks (0.94). He had 15 points and 13 rebounds in the victory over Connecticut in the opening round of the NCAA tournament -- after driving to the game with his grandfather -- and 23 and nine in the loss to eventual champion Kentucky two nights later.

The day after the tournament ended and Kentucky, the team he almost joined, won the title, White spoke to a group in Des Moines that works with young people suffering from mental-health issues.

"A lot of people think I might not be drafted in the first round because I'm scared to death of flying," he told people at Orchard Place, according to the Des Moines Register. "I hope that's not the case. A lot of people don't know that I deal with a little [Obsessive-compulsion disorder] as well."

White wanted to be an inspiration to others in his position. NBA executives will note the honesty -- and, perhaps, his decision to be more forthcoming than he maybe should have been.

This helps, too: White traveled with Iowa State to Italy last summer for an exhibition series, and if there ever was a time to stay behind it was then. One time when the results actually counted, he rode a 30-seater to Texas A&M and responded with 10 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists, the sixth triple-double in conference play in Big 12 history.

Maybe it will turn out that more has been made of the travel concerns than necessary. White has said the panic attacks are infrequent now and the anxiety is less of a problem than before. Perhaps, as some have suggested, the pampered service of full-time charter service with big jets in the NBA will ease his mind. Perhaps he can dot the schedule with driving time the same way he did in college -- Dallas to Oklahoma City, New York to Philadelphia, Philly to Washington, Oakland to Sacramento, Milwaukee to Chicago, Houston to San Antonio, and so on.

But at least for now, the topic is on the NBA radar, and that makes it real enough that he will answer a lot of questions in interviews with teams.

One general manager said White is tracking to late in the first round, with the disclaimer that the rating comes without knowing who is staying in the Draft. Another agreed with the placement and said the anxiety issues make the second round a real possibility.

"I think some teams will be discouraged by it," the second GM said. "It's kind of one of those things that's almost like a guy that's had a bunch of off-court issues. Does the talent level trump the other issues you're going to have to deal with? I think Royce is a great player, but I'm not sure that the talent level is going to trump some of the other issues. I think some teams will take a pass in that range. I can see him in the second round at the end of the day."

It's not an ideal situation for White. But just maybe he's handled worse.

"I'm here to tell you," he announced to the crowd that night at Orchard Place, "there's nothing you can't achieve."

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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